Vaccine advances in the US, but dark days ahead

(CNN) — Thursday saw an important milestone in the authorization process for a COVID-19 vaccine in the US, a milestone that comes as the country is immersed in a health crisis that is only getting worse.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted to recommend that the agency grant an emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Pfizer / BioNTech covid-19 vaccine. Officials are scheduled to meet again next week to discuss Moderna’s US application.

The vote, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, is a “very important step.”

“We want to make sure we give the American people the impression that decisions that involve their health and safety are made outside the realm of politics, outside the realm of self-aggrandizement and are essentially made by independent groups,” Fauci told CNN on Thursday night.

The FDA will then consider that recommendation before making a decision on an EUA. Once a vaccine is licensed, Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s initiative to develop a vaccine, can begin shipping and distributing the vaccine to states. But the vaccines won’t start until after a committee from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine. That advisory committee will meet on Friday and is expected to vote Sunday on the vaccine recommendation.

While the green light for a covid-19 vaccine will provide a light at the end of the tunnel, leading experts have warned that the worst days of the pandemic are yet to come for the U.S. More waves of cases are likely to form. as a result of Thanksgiving trips and gatherings that could further increase the number of infections. The United States now has an average of more than 210,000 new cases a day.

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Hospitalization numbers break records on a daily basis, with the highest number of covid-19 patients reported nationwide since the start of the pandemic on Thursday – more than 107,200, according to COVID Tracking Project. A CNN analysis of recently released data from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) showed that at least 200 hospitals in the US were at full capacity last week. And more than 90% of ICU beds were occupied in a third of all hospitals.

And the virus is claiming more American lives than ever. On Wednesday the number of highest daily deaths the U.S. has ever reported, with a staggering 3,124 deaths from covid-19. More than 2,700 deaths were reported Thursday.

“We’re in the time frame now that probably over the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we did in the Sept. 11 attack,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. . “This will be a really regrettable loss of life, like everything we’ve had so far, and the reality is that the approval of the vaccine this week is not going to have a real impact.”

A timeline for the future with the vaccine in the US

The U.S. likely won’t see any significant and widespread impacts from vaccines until well into 2021. But how quickly the country can recover depends on how quickly Americans get vaccinated and how many people are willing. to receive the vaccine.

“If we have a smooth vaccination program where everyone catches up quickly, we could get back to some form of normal, reasonably quickly. In the summer, and certainly in the fall, ”Fauci told CNN on Thursday.

“My hope and my projection is that if we get people to get vaccinated en masse so that we get that large percentage of the population, as we get closer to autumn, we can have real comfort that people are in school, for sure in school, whether it’s K-12, or college, ”he added.

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HHS Secretary Alex Azar said earlier this week that at least 20 million Americans will be able to receive covid-19 vaccines by the end of the month, 50 million by the end of January, and at least 100 million should be vaccinated by the end. first quarter.

“We remain confident that in our multi-vaccine portfolio, we will have enough doses for any American who wants a vaccine by the end of the second quarter of 2021,” added Azar.

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EE.UU. in crisis

As the country eagerly awaits the first authorization of the covid-19 vaccine, US state and local leaders are also working to curb the spread of the virus that plagues American communities.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the state will extend its statewide curfew through Jan.2, saying officials believe the curfew so far, along with face masks, have had a impact.

In Rhode Island, the governor extended a statewide “pause” on reopening for another week, saying the situation in the state was “getting terrifying.”

“In this crisis, we continue to lose Rhode Islanders every day and my heart goes out to each and every one of you who are fighting to overcome this pandemic,” said Governor Gina Raimondo. “Let’s get on with staying home and honoring the break for another week.”

Raimondo was not the only governor to express concern about COVID-19 trends this week.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Luján Grisham called the number of hospitalizations “very scary,” with more than 900 patients statewide. At least 159 of them were connected to fans.

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“We are reaching a point where it is really terrible,” said the governor.

Meanwhile, Louisiana is on a trajectory toward overwhelming the health care system, as a third increase in COVID-19 cases only continues to rise, the governor said.

“It is on a trajectory that we cannot sustain much longer if we are to preserve that ability to provide life-saving care,” said Governor John Bel Edwards.

Number of covid-19 infections likely underestimated, says expert

But while most states continue to report a significant number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, one expert says the reported number of cases and deaths in the US is probably underestimated.

Aron Hall, chief of the CDC’s Division of Respiratory Viruses, said Thursday that more than 15 million cases and more than 285,000 deaths have been associated with the virus.

“However, based on surveys and seroprevalence models, the total estimated number of infections is likely two to seven times higher than the reported cases,” Hall said.

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“We believe, as with hospitalizations and illnesses, that the reported number of deaths is probably an underestimate of the true number of deaths,” he added later.

And even with promising vaccine news, he said there is a continuing need for measures such as face masks, physical distancing and regular hand washing to help end the pandemic.

CNN’s Deidre McPhillips, Amanda Watts, Hollie Silverman, Melissa Alonso, Jennifer Selva and Andrea Diaz contributed to this report.

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